Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
5 July 2000 Issue

Animal Rights And Christianity
By Rev. J.R. Hyland
Source: [email protected]

One of the greatest challenges facing those who are trying to reform a legal system which supports the brutal treatment of laboratory animals, is the fact that they are classified as "things." This means they can be tortured and tormented in ways so satanic and perverted that just the knowledge of what is taking place is sometimes unbearable. And the legalization of such depravity derives much of its justification from Christian scholarship.

This scholarship reached its nadir in the work of St. Thomas Aquinas. His writings form a seemingly impenetrable barrier against the biblical message of God's love and concern for all sentient beings. And seven hundred years after his death, Thomist theology continues to be used by religious spokesmen to justify the abuse of animals.

The Catholic Encyclopedia informs its readers that "the visible world with which man comes in contact is divided into persons and non-persons. For the latter term the word "things" is usually employed ...animals, in contradistinction to persons [are] classed as things." By arbitrarily relegating animals to the category of "things" theologians have effectively excluded them from the moral and ethical consideration due them as sentient beings.

Of course this is an absolute contradiction of the second chapter of Genesis which clearly states that both animals and humans are "nefesh chaya" -- living souls. But religious spokesmen frequently ignore the Bible when it conflicts with their man-made doctrines. St. Thomas was no exception.

He was so anxious to promote the belief that animals were a low form of life, that he refused to accept the Genesis account which teaches that animals, like humans, were created as nonviolent beings; that the garden of Eden was a peaceable kingdom. Aquinas also refused to believe that this peaceable kingdom was vegetarian, although Genesis 1:30, reports that it was: "God all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures of the earth and all the creatures that move on the ground -- everything that has the breath of life in it, I give every green plant for food."

Although this verse of scripture could not be more definite, Aquinas refuted it, teaching that "the trees and herbs were [not] given to all animals and birds, but only to some." His refutation of the Bible and the insistence that God created animals as dangerous beings, violent and carnivorous from the beginning, bolstered his claim that man needed to dominate other creatures and use them for his own advantage.

Aquinas was a great believer in the power of observation and rational thought and in the Summa Theologica wrote that man's ability "to reason makes him like to the angels." But he was oblivious to the distortions created by his own subjectivity and prejudice. In the same treatise in which he claimed angelic reasoning ability, he made the statement that man's dominion over animals consists of "making use of them without hindrance." Hardly a heavenly outlook.

The same subjective reasoning led him to argue against those who claimed there was more than one world in the universe. Absolutely untrue, Aquinas said: there can only be one world. And he proceeded to prove this by what he claimed was the use of reason. The same kind of reasoning led him to teach that "woman is [a] defective and misbegotten" male and to then propose that this might be due to "some external force such as that of a south wind, which is moist."

Because Aquinas lived in the thirteenth century and was a product of the religious and biological prejudices of his own time, his ignorance can be overlooked. But the same cannot be said of contemporary religious spokesmen who continue to use Thomist theology to support the subjugation and abuse of other creatures.

Less than a decade ago, the revised Catechism Of The Catholic Church made the doctrinal statement that "animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity." And the papal encyclical, Gaudium et spes, stated that "believers and unbelievers agree almost unanimously that all things on earth should be ordained to man as to their center and summit."

This kind of teaching is not a Roman Catholic aberration: it also permeates Protestant Christianity. Even those who have never directly studied Aquinas, or the various documents based on his theology, have integrated his teachings into their own belief system.

Aquinas, and other like-minded men of the past, provided a rationale which succeeding generations have used to justify and systemize the brutal treatment of both human and animal beings. Many of the civil laws that have sanctioned this abuse are based on the writings of those long-dead men whose self-serving claims of superiority and god-given dominion allowed the exploitation of others on the basis of their race, their gender or their species.

Western civilization has finally recognized the immorality of slavery and is in the process of accepting female equality. And although Christians were in the forefront of the struggle to end slavery, they are notable among those reactionaries who still try to prevent women from assuming positions of leadership. But it is in the struggle to end the suffering that humans inflict on animals, that the churches have been most recalcitrant. While many individual Christians have responded to an evolving, spiritual understanding that animals are not "things" to be used by men in whatever ways they choose, the churches have continued to uphold an ungodly status quo.

The current edition of the Catholic Encyclopedia teaches that "[There are] beings that may be treated simply as means to the perfection of persons [and] can have no rights, and to this category the brute creation belongs. In the divine plan of the universe the lower creatures are subordinated to the welfare of man."

It is the Christian establishment that continues to uphold the man-made doctrines that have made life on earth a hell for the millions of animals that are the target of human cruelty and greed. It is the Christian establishment that refuses to accept Christ's revelation of a God whose love and concern embraces all creatures here below.

Copyright 2000 by Viatoris Ministries

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